Osiris-Rex: Nasa probe arrives at Asteroid Bennu

Mindy Sparks
December 3, 2018

OSIRIS-Rex will stay alongside asteroid for two years and then will return to Earth in a historic first.

NASA aired live coverage of its arrival starting at 11:45 a.m. ET, shortly before the spacecraft began the 20-second burn that put it on the right trajectory around the asteroid.

'We have arrived, ' technicians announced, spurring high-fives and clapping around the control room.

After today, OSIRIS-REx will spend almost a year examining Bennu and sending back highly detailed images of its surface.

Once landing on Bennu the 3.5-metre-long probe will spend two years exploring the surface.

In mid-2020, scientists will direct Osiris-Rex to drop down to the object and grab at least 60g of regolith, or "top soil". It will first survey the asteroid's surface for a year, before selecting a safe and "scientifically interesting' location to scoop up some rocks". The sample container would break loose and head toward Earth in 2021.

In August, the craft snapped its first image of asteroid Bennu. It was "flexed" in space for the first time on November 14.

NASA said the estimated 2.1-ounce sample size equates to about 30 sugar packets worth of dirt and rocks.

The $800 million unmanned mission, known as OSIRIS-REx, made a rendez-vous with the asteroid at around 12:10 pm (1710 GMT), firing its engines a final time.

The US space agency hopes to use OSIRIS-REx to bring back the largest payload of space samples since the Apollo era of the 1960s and 1970s, when American explorers collected and carried back to Earth 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of Moon rocks.

"The story of this asteroid is the story of the solar system", said Bashar Rizk, instrument scientist for OSIRIS-REx.

The spacecraft was launched from Florida in September 2016 and has since hurled through space at speeds of over 100,000km/h.

Scientists are eager to study material from a carbon-rich asteroid like dark Bennu, which could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

OSIRIS-REx has a camera suite, a laser altimeter for 3D mapping, a thermal emission spectrometer to take temperature and mineral content and spectrometers to measure X-rays, almost infrared and visible light.

The chances of Bennu striking earth are still a fraction of a per cent. This knocked it through space until an orbit close to Earth locked it in place. Carbon is the hinge upon which organic molecules hang.

"Besides carbon, Bennu also might have another component important to life: water, which is trapped in the minerals that make up the asteroid". The spacecraft will spend two years flying alongside Bennu at a distance of almost 12 kilometres from the object, regularly making physical contact to collect two kilograms of samples from the massive space rock, NASA explained.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

Discuss This Article